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In this landmark two-hour special, NOVA takes viewers on a scientific journey that began 3,000 years ago and continues today.The film presents the latest archeological scholarship from the Holy Land to explore the beginnings of modern religion and the origins of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament.
In addition to the Editors' Picks at left, see the original program website for more related features.Near the banks of the Nile, in southern Egypt, in 1896, British archaeologist Flinders Petrie, leads an excavation in Thebes, the ancient city of the dead.Here, he unearths one of the most important discoveries in biblical archaeology.From beneath the sand, appears the corner of a royal monument, carved in stone.Dedicated in honor of Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Ramesses the Great, it became known as the Merneptah Stele. Most of the hieroglyphic inscription celebrates Merneptah's triumph over Libya, his enemy to the West, but almost as an afterthought, he mentions his conquest of people to the East, in just two lines.The well-established Egyptian chronology gives the date as 1208 B. Merneptah's Stele is powerful evidence that a people called the Israelites are living in Canaan, in what today includes Israel and Palestine, over 3,000 years ago.
The ancient Israelites are best known through familiar stories that chronicle their history: Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Ten Commandments, David and Goliath. Through writing the Hebrew Bible, the beliefs of the ancient Israelites survive to become Judaism, one of the world's oldest continuously-practiced religions.And it is the Jews who give the world an astounding legacy, the belief in one God.This belief will become the foundation of two other great monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam.Often called the Old Testament, to distinguish it from the New Testament, which describes the events of early Christianity, today the Hebrew Bible and a belief in one God are woven into the very fabric of world culture.But in ancient times, all people, from the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Babylonians, worshipped many gods, usually in the form of idols.How did the Israelites, alone among ancient peoples, discover the concept of one god?